Playoffs Secured, Clash for NFC North Looms

Behind a dominating performance from their defense, the Packers took care of business at Tampa Bay with a 20-3 victory. The win wrapped up a playoff berth for the sixth consecutive season. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY)

The Green Bay Packers are headed to the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.

The Packers took care of business by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-3 on Sunday in Tampa, Fla. Green Bay (11-4) will host Detroit (11-4) for the NFC North championship and a first-round bye next week. The Lions haven’t won in Wisconsin since 1991 — the year before Brett Favre was acquired to play quarterback.

“Good victory for us,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Very, very proud of our football. team. Obviously, this was a game we needed to quality for the playoffs, and that’s the first step and, obviously, as we leave here we’re looking forward to next week for the opportunity to win the division.”

The final statistics told a tale of domination, with Green Bay holding an overwhelming 431-109 advantage in yards. Aaron Rodgers, playing with the flu and a calf strain sustained on the second series, bounced back from the worst of his game by throwing for 318 yards and a rating of 108.1. Of Rodgers’ 31 completions, 11 went to Randall Cobb (for 131 yards) and nine went to Jordy Nelson (for 113 yards). Eddie Lacy rushed for 99 yards before leaving with an injury. However, Green Bay went 1-of-4 in the red zone against Bucs coach Lovie Smith’s bend-but-don’t-break defense.

One of Green Bay’s red-zone failings came on the first possession of the second half. With a second-and-goal at the 1, Lacy and John Kuhn were stuffed and Rodgers’ pass in the end zone to Cobb was deflected.

The Packers’ next possession reached a first-and-10 from the Bucs’ 15, but two runs by James Starks and a third-down completion to Starks gained just 9 yards. Mason Crosby’s chip-shot 25-yard field goal bumped the advantage to 13-3.

That was more than enough for Green Bay’s defense. Bucs quarterback Josh McCown completed 12-of-26 passes for 147 yards. He was sacked seven times, threw a late interception and finished with a woeful passer rating of 48.1. Meanwhile, what had been a feeble Packers run defense allowed just 16 yards on 14 rushes.

The Packers tacked on a late touchdown, a stats-padding 1-yard throw from Rodgers to Nelson with 2:45 remaining.

Six of Tampa Bay’s 10 possessions failed to get a first down. In the second half, Tampa Bay’s four drives managed only three first downs and 33 yards. The Bucs’ final drive ended with an interception by Datone Jones as McCown was being hauled down by linebacker Jayrone Elliott.

The win was McCarthy’s 99th overall, passing Vince Lombardi for second in franchise history. It was McCarthy’s fifth season of 11-plus regular-season wins, tying Lombardi and Mike Holmgren for most in team history. Green Bay and New England are the only teams with six consecutive playoff berths.

“That's six years in a row. That's unprecedented,” Matthews said. “I heard that with this win he passes Lombardi, so he's in some good company around here. But it's about consistency and that's what we showed tonight on defense. We've just got to keep this thing going, no letdowns. These are good games to get us ready for Detroit and the playoffs.”

The Packers mostly dominated the first half but had to settle for a 10-3 lead at halftime.

Green Bay’s defense was tremendous, albeit against a team that hadn’t scored more than 17 points at home all season. The Buccaneers went three-and-out on each of their first five possessions.

The Packers didn’t start well on offense, either. They went three-and-out on their first drive, Rodgers fumbled on the second and Davante Adams dropped a third-down pass on the third possession.

Finally, the Packers got on the board on Lacy’s 44-yard touchdown run. Tampa Bay linebacker Danny Lansanah had a chance to drop Lacy in the backfield but Lacy broke the tackle, then outran safety Bradley McDougald to the end zone.

Two promising drives netted only a field goal. On the first, a gimpy Rodgers threw low to Cobb while on the move on third-and-4, and Crosby missed wide left from the 48 yards. On the second, Adams dropped a third-down pass before taking a big hit from safety Dashon Goldson. This time, Crosby hit from 42 yards to give Green Bay a 10-0 lead.

The Buccaneers scored on the final play of the first half. A 22-yard catch and run by Mike Evans finally gave them their initial first down, and Vincent Jackson hauled in a 40-yard bomb from McCown. A third-down sack by Julius Peppers ended the drive, and Patrick Murray booted a 43-yard field goal.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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